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'Horrifying' Acts 

America is demonizing kids, online and off

Reality: In 1999, kids had a 1 in 2 million chance of being killed at school.

Have adults gone hog mad?

Stop reading, and look at this Web site. You're now appalled at how schools, with the help of private industry, are violating the basic constitutional rights of our teenagers... aren't you?

Reality: Adults killed 1,077 children last year -- the equivalent of two Columbines a day for an entire school year.

The WAVE program, launched first in North Carolina by the world's largest security company, is offering an online form and telephone hotline -- in exchange for free e-mail -- where anyone can anonymously report disturbing comments by a student. Or, they can turn in someone for making a joke or expressing an opinion as is happening across the country in an epidemic of school-violence hysteria.

Then, school districts and the police can target another innocent or rambunctious or Ritalin-soaked or Prozac-whacked or unpopular or Goth or rap-obsessed or black-wearing kid to be suspended, expelled, ridiculed, branded, handcuffed, jailed or otherwise abused because he made a mistake. Or because somebody said he did.

Reality: School homicides decreased 40 percent from 1997 to 1999; all at-school crimes dropped 29 percent.

An ACLU attorney told Wired News that this online profiling of children is "horrifying," a civil-rights violation and an invasion of privacy. But it is only the latest insult hurled at our nation's youth under the guise of protecting them. National ACLU President Nadine Strossen told me recently that the wave of zero-tolerance and profiling of American teenagers is one of the two biggest challenges civil libertarians face (the other is protecting online free speech). She said the ACLU is fighting the "fortress mentality" against youth -- but is meeting resistance from juries. "In the wake of Littleton, things in our public schools are really, really grim," she said.

Reality: 62 percent of the public thinks juvenile crime is up. In fact, juvenile homicide arrests dropped 56 percent since 1993. Under-18 crime overall is down 30 percent, rape 29 percent, robbery 47 percent, assault 27 percent.

Worse, the truth does not remotely justify America's demonization of its youth. Youth crime has been dropping steadily since 1994. You couldn't tell from the overblown headlines and nonsensical editorials calling for curfews and unrelenting zero-tolerance policies. Most media outlets, bloodthirsty for a piece of the Columbine action, have virtually ignored the real picture, instead creating "six-month anniversaries" of school-shooting tragedies to circle their cameras around.

Fortunately, some grown-ups are paying attention. Last week, the Justice Policy Institute and the Children's Law Center published "School House Hype: Two Years Later." The report, at www.cjcj.org/schoolhousehype/shh2.html, proves that our under-18 community is becoming safer than ever. Parents, on the other hand, are to be feared: Even with the recent school shootings, children are much safer at school than at home.

Reality: Adults commit a million violent acts against children a year. Every day, at least three children die from child abuse.

As we are force-fed the first anniversary of the tragic Columbine shootings, adults can continue to treat our younger counterparts like second-class citizens who do not deserve to be heard, to be forgiven, to be afforded due process. Or we can recognize this hysteria, and halt mindless youth-profiling policies that are unlikely to stop the next tragedy (Columbine had a zero-tolerance weapons policy, you know), but will definitely violate the rights of millions of teenagers.

We media have our own work to do: We must stop exaggerating youth violence and report the facts every chance we get. Justice Policy Institute Director Vinnie Schiraldi is scathing with his assessment of school-violence media coverage. At the Newseum in New York, Schiraldi told newspaper editorialists that they must be careful of "manufacturing trends," like "another school shooting" in a "place not touched by violence." Network coverage of murders has increased 721 percent, he said. "They're going to show up for the nasty cases," he said.

Reality: Homicides by kids under 13 are at their lowest since 1964.

I challenge you, one adult to another: Stop treating kids like the enemy -- at home or at school. Right now. Please. We must lead by example, not by tyranny.

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